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The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Collection has launched a fascinating new digital archive, Voices of civilian internment: WWII Singapore. These unique records, now freely available through Cambridge Digital Library, were conserved and digitised over a two year period with the support of the Wellcome Trust. They powerfully bring to life the experience of civilians who were interned at the Changi and Sime Road camps between 1942 and 1945 following the fall of Malaya to the Japanese. The archive will be of immense interest to the families of internees and a wide range of researchers since few survivors ever spoke of their traumatic ordeal. 

The collection includes official papers compiled by the camps’ administration, as well as individual internees’ poignant personal stories expressed through diaries, memoirs, correspondence and artwork. Together they help to reconstruct all aspects of internees’ lives, shedding light upon relations with the Japanese authorities, accommodation, camp discipline, work parties, diet, health, hygiene, recreation and repatriation at the end of the war. Among the most significant records are nominal rolls which document each internee’s personal data; the archives of a long-serving camp commandant; and newspapers produced within the men’s camp. The newspapers published poetry, fiction and humour, and reported the activities of sporting, cultural and educational societies, which played such a vital role in sustaining morale.

Lessons for schoolboys in Sime Road carried on during internment, and the digital archive contains material from Cambridge Assessment documenting their school certificate level examinations. The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre has also submitted archives relating to the experience of missionaries and lay Salvationists who were interned. The RCS has worked closely over the past two years with organisations representing WWII prisoners of war and civilian internees from the Far East. It is eager to cooperate with other institutions, which hold related collections, to expand the digital archive.

Further information and contact details for RCS can be found here: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/collections/departments/royal-commonwealth-society

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